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Games for Change 2014 Highlights: Why Not use Games in Education?

Note:  This is a highly interactive article! Please click on all of the hyperlinks. They either take you to the game mentioned OR to an article about the game’s use in education.

The Games for Change (G4C) Festival in New York City has come a long way over the past few years. When I started attending the conference in 2010, the emphasis on using games to educate was at the periphery, not because attendees didn’t believe in the potential of games in the learning space, but because the money simply wasn’t there to create commercial quality learning games. There also wasn’t universal support for the idea that learning could be fun. (“They are having too much fun to be learning.”)

During my teaching career, I’ve taught with traditional educational games such as The Oregon Trail and Math Blaster, in which the goal of the game is to communicate specific factual information, to web-based games such as Ayiti, The Cost of LifeMolleindustria’s McDonald’sSpent, and The Walking Dead (Steam download), in which the goal is to explore concepts — in this case, the concepts of survival, satire, and ethics. Happily, there is an increasing openness to using commercial games in education as a means to achieving curricular goals. For example, The Walking Dead game explores morality and ethics; the Assassin’s Creed series dissects historical fact from fiction; Portal 2  demonstrates physics concepts such as oscillatory motion, simple harmonic motion and Hooke’s Law; and Civilization IV introduces the complexities of political, social, and economic processes.

As you can tell, I am a huge proponent of using games in education to introduce, enhance and reinforce curricular concepts. Here’s a brief rundown on some of the games highlighted at the 2014 G4C conference:

Gone Home

Gone Home is a first-person exploration game in which 21-year-old Kaitlin Greenbriar returns home after a year abroad to find that her family is missing. Set in 1995, the player, as Kaitlin, searches through the home for clues.

Potential course use: Storytelling, narrative and sexuality exploration (homosexuality). Review Paul Darvasi’s blog, in which he recounts how he used Gone Home in his high school English class.

Papers, Please

Players become immigration inspectors for the fictional communist state of Arstotzka and must decide who can enter, who will be turned away, and who will be arrested.

Potential course use: Political science, justice studies, and immigration studies.

The Migrant Trail

Styled after The Oregon Trail, this single-player simulation examines the life of migrants and border patrol agents on the U.S.–Mexico border. The game is part of a trans-media campaign that includes The Undocumented documentary by Marco Williams.

Potential course use: Political science, justice studies, history, and immigration studies.

Depression Quest

Depression Quest is an interactive fiction game in which the player makes choices as a 20-something whose depression worsens as he attempts to navigate everyday life.

Potential course use: Storytelling, narrative, and psychology.

Two games that were pitched during the Festival include NeverMind and Off Grid.  Neither game has a release date yet; both, however, are promising.


NeverMind is an adventure/puzzle/horror game that teaches players to manage stress and anxiety by role-playing “neuroprobers” who help trauma patients uncover and “de-power” unsettling memories. The game currently uses a heart-rate monitor to provide biofeedback; however, the game developers are in talks with tech giants to free the game from its monitor tether.

Off Grid

The developer blog asks the player to, “Imagine a dark comedy set in a contemporary city, where a corrupt politics and lobbying by corporations has meant that privacy and data law has been eroded, and copyright has been pushed to the extremes.  The city’s corporations own and scrape your data, and everything you say and do is recorded.” Hmm, not so difficult to imagine given Facebook, SOPA, NSA, etc.

As time allows, play these games (or go to YouTube and watch a couple of game playthroughs; for example, here’s a list of Gone Home playthroughs), and let me know what you think. And if you want more ideas for potential course games, check-out my Games in the Curriculum site and register for the upcoming workshop on Gaming in the Curriculum (ASU staff and faculty only).

Have fun!